WASHINGTON, July 1, 2008 – With competitive salaries, a top-notch retirement package, and now the option to share education benefits with family members, a career in the U.S. military has become far more attractive since the days of the draft. Thirty-five years ago today, the armed forces ended involuntary enlistment and the all-volunteer force was born. Just as military equipment and tactics have evolved since the Vietnam War era, so have the incentives that entice and sustain men and women who volunteer to wear their nation’s uniform.

“When you put the whole package together, it’s becoming very attractive to join the military,” Army Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, director of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, said in an interview yesterday. “It can be a wonderful life.”

When Metz volunteered for the Army in 1966, he was one of only two men in his basic training company who had not been drafted.

“There was one kid from Baltimore and myself. The rest of the company was draftees,” he recalled. “I don’t want to go back to that.”

The general cited a combination of reasons why people enlist today: patriotism, the opportunity for worldly experience, and valuable training. But the lure of benefits, which have expanded since the advent of the all-volunteer force and continue to grow, also is an important draw.

“The first, and most tangible, was getting the pay scale on an equal footing with your counterpart on your civilian side,” Metz said, describing the evolution of military incentives. “That takes that differential off the table.”

Disparity between civilian and military salaries used to be a stumbling block for recruiters. But this is a nonissue now that servicemembers’ pay — based on their education and job experience — is roughly equal to what they would make out of uniform, Metz said.

As pay scales equalized, servicemembers tended to replace their concerns about compensation with a less urgent focus on levels of job satisfaction. On a daily basis, the general said, the onus is with commanders and noncommissioned officers to create an environment in which military members feel fulfilled being part of the unit.

But in the long-term view of military careers, he added, the recruiting system has evolved since the draft to better match military members with an occupation in which they’re more likely to find enduring satisfaction.

This is contrary to the armed forces’ days of yore, when draftees not only were forced into service, but also had no latitude to select their military job.

“When you force somebody to come into the service, then you force the military skill on them that they may or may not be interested in,” Metz said, “you’ve got a real uphill battle in the training and education of that soldier.”

Now, however, recruiters use aptitude tests to steer enlistees into jobs they’re most likely to enjoy, making them easier to train and educate. “It’s just better for all concerned,” Metz said.

Capping a military career is a retirement package which the general characterized as America’s gold-standard pension.

“Once a person gets beyond those teenage years and begins to think a little bit deeper about their life, [they realize] you cannot build an annuity that matches the retirement of an armed forces member in the United States,” he said.

The most recent enhancement to military benefits came yesterday, when President Bush signed legislation that will increase servicemembers’ education package and, for the first time, allows troops to transfer unused portions to family members.

Metz predicted the bill will have a direct impact on recruiting. He added that because military members now can obtain degrees as easily in uniform as they can as civilians, servicemembers could attend programs like those offered at the College of the American Soldier, and transfer unused GI Bill benefits to a spouse or child.

“The transfer of that GI educational benefit is a double win, because you could become a soldier, get an education, and get a family member’s education,” he said. “You’re really getting a ‘twofer.’”

The 42-year career soldier offered his praise for today’s all-volunteer force. “They’re doing an unbelievably good job,” he said, “and we have got to have them continue.”

Up Next

Off-Road Motorcops

WASHINGTON, July 1, 2008 – With competitive salaries, a top-notch retirement package, and now…